Medal of Honor Monday: Army Cpl. Clarence B. Craft

Katie Lange

WASHINGTON: U.S. troops were outnumbered as they fought their way across Okinawa in World War II, but their determination prevailed anyway. A major part of that victory came at the hands of Army Cpl. Clarence B. Craft, whose fearless attack on a key hill broke the entire Japanese defensive line. For his heroic actions, he earned the Medal of Honor.

Craft was born on Sept. 23, 1921, in San Bernardino, California. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas (the state in which Craft later lived), his father, Louis, was a railroad engineer who died in an accident when he was about 8 years old. His mother, Pearl, worked as a cook for a restaurant chain, and they moved frequently. Eventually, Craft and his mother, brother and sister landed in Santa Ana. 

According to the Los Angeles times, Craft was a hog ranch foreman before he joined the Army about a week shy of his 23rd birthday on Sept. 15, 1944. Before heading off to war, he married a woman named Betty. The pair eventually had a son and a daughter. 

By April 1945, Pfc. Craft was a rifleman in the Pacific Theater with Company G of the 2nd Battalion, 382nd Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Division. He had only been in the Army for about eight months when he saw his first action — the action that earned him the Medal of Honor. 

The U.S. invaded Okinawa on April 1, 1945. As the Japanese fought hard in their last-ditch effort to defend their homeland, Craft and his unit were brought in to replace other war-weary soldiers. By the end of May, Allied forces had been stalled for nearly two weeks at Hen Hill, a tactical position on which a major Japanese defensive line was hinged. Repeated heavy assaults by various battalions had been thwarted, leading to several casualties. 

On May 31, Craft and five comrades were sent ahead of their company to find any remaining enemy resistance. They’d gone only a short distance up the hill when heavy gunfire and grenades bombarded them, wounding three of the men and pinning down the rest. 

According to Craft’s citation, “against all odds that appeared suicidal,” he refused to stay put. Craft stood up in full view of the enemy and started shooting at any hostile movement. As he took out enemy fighters, he steadily made his way up the hill, which drove other enemy fighters back to their trenches. These fighters had fought off battalions of soldiers, but Craft took many of them out on his own. 

When the private reached the crest of the hill, he quickly threw a bunch of grenades into nearby enemy positions. Meanwhile, other allied soldiers had pushed up the hill behind him and were able to feed Craft two cases of explosives, which he hurled into enemy positions on the other side of the hill. He also directed the aim of his comrades below him on the hill so they could lob grenades in the right direction. 

As grenades flew over his head, bursting on both sides of the hill, Craft left his position to attack the main enemy trench. Straddling the deep ditch, Craft fired into it at point-blank range, killing many of the confused, panicked Japanese inside. He then chased down others who ran away, coming across an enemy machine gun nest that he destroyed with his rifle and more grenades.

As the Japanese retreated, Americans swarmed over the hilltop. One of those soldiers found Craft, who had continued down the central enemy trench to the mouth of a cave where several enemy soldiers had taken cover. The U.S. soldier handed Craft a bag of explosives, which he then tossed into the cave. However, it failed to explode.

Attempting to fix the situation was incredibly dangerous, but Craft did it anyway. He grabbed the explosives from inside the cave, relit the fuse and threw it back. This time, it did go off, entombing the remaining enemy fighters inside the cave. 

By the end of the battle for Hen Hill, Craft was credited with killing at least 25 enemy soldiers in an attack that broke through the heart of the enemy defensive line. Japanese defenses crumbled quickly after that. 

Not long after the battle, Craft was hospitalized for two months in Guam after contracting typhoid fever, according to the LA Times. He returned home in September 1945 and continued to serve by training troops at Fort Ord near Monterey, California.

On Oct. 12, 1945, Craft received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman during a White House ceremony. His mother, wife and 2-year-old son, Ray, joined him. Fourteen other soldiers also received the medal that day, including Army Pfc. Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to earn the nation’s highest military honor.

Craft was discharged from the Army in 1946 but reenlisted the following year. He served with the occupation forces in Japan and during the Korean War, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. He served for a total of 14 years.

Craft moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, in the 1960’s. He worked as a mason tender in construction and was employed for 20 years around the University of Arkansas until he retired, according to the Madison County Record newspaper. After retirement, he stayed in Arkansas where he lived with his second wife, Tamie, according to the Fresno Bee. Craft helped raise her four sons from a previous marriage. They also had a daughter, Sally Ann, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

In 1975, it was reported that a Southern California janitor found Craft’s Medal of Honor and Bronze Star citations in a trash can. Jim Wronski, the janitor, finally tracked Craft down to return them 10 years later. 

Craft continued his dedication to service and to veterans in his civilian life. He volunteered thousands of hours of his time at the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which named its primary care unit after him in 1998. A city park and local post office also bear his name.

Craft died on March 28, 2002. He is buried in Fayetteville National Cemetery. 

This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.